Winners and Wishlists: A break out year for the UP Fighting Maroons

2017 was a memorable year in the basketball world.

There were moments of dominance like the Beermen’s growing dynasty or the San Beda’s continued reign over the NCAA. There were redemption stories like Ateneo reclaiming the UAAP from La Salle crown or the Golden State Warriors erasing their 3-1 curse from last year with a chip this year. There were teams and players that emerged from out of nowhere. The Lyceum Pirates not only won games but they changed lives while Alvin Pasaol scored 49 points, cementing his cult legend status.

The basketball played on court wasn’t too bad as well. Russ averaged a triple-double, Ben Mbala wrecked rims, and Ginebra set attendance records in the Governor’s Cup Finals.

To close out a great year, the SLAM PH team recalls their favorite moments in 2017 and their basketball wishes for the new year.

With each year that passes, we ring in a new one with lists of goals and resolutions. We make commitments to become better. We make promises to shed off that extra weight, to save up for that grown-up purchase, and to ultimately experience more success in the new year.

That last one is a vow that the UP Fighting Maroons make every single year, every single UAAP season. And my basketball wish for 2018 is to actually see them fulfil it. My hope and my prayer is for my alma mater to finally break into the Final Four in this coming year.

Since the Maroons suffered that 0-14 nightmare in Season 76, the motto had always been ‘nowhere to go but UP.’ I liked it. It was true. However, while UP did improve season by season, it was an extremely slow process.

The Maroons just won a single game in season 77. The following year, the opened the tournament with back-to-back wins; but they were only able to add one more the rest of the way. Come season 79, UP showed good progress as they picked up five wins. But it wasn’t really until season 80, when they scored six wins, that the Maroons were actually considered a contender for the Final Four.

As 2018 comes in, the Iskolar ng Bayan in me can’t help but get excited with what we could see from the Fighting Maroons this year.

You look at the performance of the Fighting Maroons and you see an upward trend. They’ve been staying true to the promise of becoming better on a yearly basis. While there is never any assurance on when that trend will dip, I am positive that UP can keep it going north. They should be able to rack up at least seven wins in season 81.

Basing on their campaign last year, we can say this: the UP Fighting Maroons are ready to peak. One thing they lacked in previous years is a bonafide superstar – a guy you build the team around. They never really had anyone as big as Kiefer Ravena or Jeron Teng. Now, however, Paul Desiderio has taken on that role. He has emerged as the King Fighting Maroon (if that even applies here), literally winning games for UP last season (read: “Atin ‘to. Papasok ‘to.”)

Desiderio also has incredibly talented guys surrounding him. There’s Jun Manzo, an on-court leader who teams up with Paul to form a duo that seems to have played together for decades. Then there’s Juan Gomez de Liaño, a young guard whose game is made up of skill, talent, athleticism and a whole lot of guts.

In the front court, there’s Juan’s older brother, Javi. You won’t necessarily put him in charge, but this guy will get you double-double just from his relentless will. Then you have hustle guys in Jan Jaboneta, Noah Webb and Jerson Prado.

But of course, the biggest thing for UP in season 81 is the entrance of Bright Akhuetie. Every Isko and Iska has been waiting for his arrival. Finally, we get to see him suit up.

Paul will still take the game-winners. Juan will get his high-flying highlights. Bright, however, will change the game. With Ben Mbala exit from the UAAP, the door is wide open for Akhuetie to become that dominating force that teams fear.

Bright will be the edge that will allow UP to become a legitimate contender in this coming season. And by contender, I don’t just mean the Final Four. Trust me, these boys have their eyes on the championship.

I’m just really excited for season 81. For the great heights that UP could and should finally reach.

My wish is that twelve months from now, we’ll be talking about how the UP Fighting Maroons were the biggest success story of 2018.

READ: 2017 Basketball Wrap-up

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